Oxford Gene Technology
At A Glance
Name: Mike Evans
Professional Experience: Vice president of marketing and strategy in discovery systems, business development, marketing, senior development scientist, Amersham Biosciences; managing director, Chirotech; development scientist, Beecham Pharmaceuticals.
Education: Oxford University 1983, Dphil, biochemistry
In the decade since Sir Edwin Southern founded Oxford Gene Technology to market its patented technology, OGT has established itself as a company singularly bent on licensing its IP portfolio to companies worldwide, while successfully defending its IP rights in court against major microarray players such as Affymetrix, Nanogen, and GE Healthcare.
Starting in 2002, however, OGT began the process of evolving from a straightforward licensing company to a commercial enterprise as well. It created three new business units OGT Services, Oxamer, and Tridend and last month named Mike Evans, a former vice president of marketing and business development at Amersham, as CEO designate.
Evans is scheduled to assume the duties of chief executive officer of OGT this June, and BioArray News spoke with him last week to find out more about what his appointment means for OGT, and how close the company is to launching its new commercial ventures.
You will be taking over as CEO in June. What kind of function are you performing currently at OGT?
Right now I am technical director and also in charge of something called resource management, which is really looking at allocating resources within the company, but also looking at the markets externally. You could probably think of it as more like strategic marketing and product development those sorts of things.
Didn't you just join the company in March?
Yes. I came from GE Healthcare. I have been about 14 or 15 years at Amersham, and Amersham obviously was purchased by GE. Basically what I was looking for was to use my experience in the life science market that I'd got from Amersham for running a smaller company. OGT was really interesting to me because of several things. [OGT] has got some great science, excellent people, and a very interesting portfolio of opportunities. For a small company there are three or four potential business opportunities, so that's really what got me excited about the company.
When you say "small," how small is the company?
We're around 40 people right now. And that's been built up. It's grown from about two or three people to 40 in two and a half years. And those 40 people are engaged in a range of different businesses. We still have a continued, major effort in licensing the array technology around the world. We are developing a services-based business, which is designing arrays for people, and taking them through the initial design of the array for a customer, through using the array, to interpreting the data from the array as well. That's a very interesting business that we have been building over the last 12 to 18 months.
Why don't you tell me about that business now, since we are on the topic.
As you know, there [are] a lot of different applications for bioarrays, and we feel that there's a need in the marketplace for a very flexible and responsive service for customers. So people who call up with a custom chip requirement quite often have got good molecular biology resources themselves, but probably not sufficient enough to design arrays and design all the probe sets that are required for arrays. Also, often we find people need help with interpreting the data from arrays. We found a very interesting niche in some of the newer applications of arrays areas like CGH have been quite fruitful like that for over the last several months.
Are you marketing the service? What is it called?
It's OGT Services. It's a service that we are starting to market much more positively with much more energy over recent months. We have been at most of the major cytogenetics meetings, for example, in UK and Europe, and we are also going to be attending quite a lot of the other meetings that people who want to use arrays will be interested in. We are starting to do a lot more promotional activity advertising. We are very keen to get some buzz out there into the marketplace about our services business.
One other thing that we think will characterize our service business is the flexibility and responsiveness of our service. We are very keen to put our scientists in direct contact with scientists in customer organizations. Whether we are dealing with academic organizations or pharmaceutical companies, we feel there's a real benefit to providing scientist-to-scientist interaction in providing a custom array service like this.
Is this a global service?
It's initially starting off mainly in Europe, although we are keen to grow globally.
You mentioned you have two other businesses. What are they?
There [are] really two technology areas. One is called Tridend that is a technology [for] people [who] are using mass spectrometry either for genomic applications like genotyping or people who are interested in protein characterization in proteomics.
What this technology does is it basically enhances the results you can get from mass spectrometry and it will actually get more information out of each experiment. I would say that this is quite early stage in terms of the development of the technology. We have got a lot of IP in the area and we are now starting some collaborations, both with academic and industrial organizations. It is a little early to say who we are collaborating with. We are developing the business towards a product-based business based on that technology. It's all based on trityl chemistry. With trityl chemistry you can get more molecules to fly much more effectively in the mass spectrometer.
The other business we have is called Oxamer. The core of that technology is electrochemical fabrication of arrays. We think there are some advantages to using electrochemistry. We think that you can get much more rapid turnaround of novel array designs. You can get better feature size and extremely effective oligonucleotide synthesis on arrays as well. We think it's going to be a very productive area.
We are developing quite a range of applications with Oxamer. Some of those will go into the research market and some may go into the diagnostic market as well.
According to your website, these business units were formed in 2003. How have they been performing since their inception?
They are at the moment in the technology-development stage, so the way that we'd measure those businesses is against technical milestones as we are developing the technology. Suffice to say I have just been in the company for about a month, but I have been very impressed by the technical progress that's been made over the last few months.
If you take Oxamer as an example, we will be talking at upcoming conferences on the Oxamer technology.
Over the past decade, OGT has successfully defended its IP rights in a number of high-profile cases. Do you think the industry has developed to a point where they will just spare themselves the lawsuits and license straight from you or do you anticipate more IP challenges during your tenure as CEO?
Our policy has been to widely license the intellectual property, and the reason for that is that Ed made some very fundamental inventions. And his vision was to develop the market as widely as possible. OGT has always adopted a policy of wide, non-exclusive licensing in the life sciences market. We would hope that anyone that needs a license would always come and take one in those areas.
However, having said that, there [are] always times when the other party doesn't recognize the IP and doesn't want to take a license before they launch some products. Just like in the past, if that happens in the future, we will always seek to police and enforce our IP. It's just something you have to do as a technology-based company. Clearly we'd prefer to continue our licensing policy widely in the market, and also develop our own products and services, but if we have situations where people don't respect our intellectual property then we would always have to enforce it.
Do you think the selection of yourself as the new CEO was indicative of a change in the kind of company OGT is [becoming]?
Yes, I think it's fair to say that. I would emphasize that we have been very successful in licensing the IP that the company has developed and we intend to carry on with those licensing programs. The difference is that instead of focusing mainly on licensing, we are keen to develop other products and services as well.
We want to carry on allowing other companies to develop based on our intellectual property but equally we are very interested to serve the market more directly through products and services we develop ourselves.
Probably the main change that you would see in the business model is that we will be providing a lot more services like our array service, and we will be providing more technology-based products, like ones we are developing in Tridend and Oxamer. We may well access other technologies for the marketplace and develop those too and market them out to life science customers as well. So, if you look to OGT three years from now, we would be a licensing company still, but we would hope to have revenue streams from products and services that we sell to the marketplace as well.
When do you think those products and services will be available?
I think that within each of Oxamer and Tridend there's very interesting technology opportunities. I think what we will find is that some of those will turn into products that we will sell to the market directly. Others we may well go through marketing partners.
It is difficult to say when they will be hitting the marketplace because of the stage of the development of the technology at the moment. What we are really doing at the moment with both Tridend and Oxamer is taking the proof of principle we've now got with the technologies and assessing the marketplace and deciding what products we are going to be providing to the market. It is a bit too early to say when it is going to happen.
Will you hire more people, [or] update your facilities as you add these new business units?
We are very keen to grow as a company. If you look at the skills within the company, there's an absolutely fantastic set of scientists in the company. We have a real multidisciplinary team. We have got great chemists, molecular biologists, microfabrication skills as well. We have got some very good commercial skills in the company as well. I do think we will have to strengthen our commercial skills, particularly as we want to access the market directly.
Do you have the resources to do that?
OGT is a private company. We have resources to grow. What I would say is that we would always want to grow based on performance.
You used to be a scientist at Amersham. What prompted you to switch to marketing and business development?
What I have always enjoyed is commercializing good science. So when I was in product development at Amersham I always got a kick out of seeing the product hit the market and make some money for the company. Doing that from the marketing and business development stance is very satisfying. Really what I like to have is a combination between the science and commercializing the science. That's really what I enjoy.